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  • Writer's pictureNathan Coles

How to Play Tambourine: The 3 Basic Strokes Everyone Should Know

Updated: Mar 4

Keith Aleo demonstrates 3 types of strokes that can be played with one hand on the tambourine. These are often used for passages that are slower in tempo but can be used for a wide range of dynamics.


Meet Your Instructor

Keith Aleo, Black Swamp Artist

Keith Aleo is a Black Swamp Artist and boasts a diverse career spanning performance, education, and administration. With degrees from the Eastman School of Music and the University of Miami, Aleo has taught percussion at prestigious institutions like the Boston Conservatory, the University of Connecticut, and his alma mater. Additionally, he serves as a consultant for renowned companies such as Zildjian and Vic Firth. Aleo's influence extends globally through recitals, master classes, and workshops, including appearances at major events like the Percussive Arts Society International Conventions across Europe and Asia. Notable playing credits include engagements with esteemed orchestras like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and the London Symphony Orchestra. Aleo's expertise extends beyond performance, as evidenced by his tenure as Director of Education and Orchestral Activities for the Zildjian Company from 2003 to 2015. He has also authored acclaimed percussion method and étude books, earning international recognition for his contributions to the field.


Tambourine Technique No. 1: Pacman 🤌

The first technique involves shaping your hand into a little Pacman. Placing your thumb underneath the other four fingers in a pinched shape will achieve this technique. For softer dynamics, playing at the edge or rim of the tambourine will activate the jingles of the instrument without addition tone from the head. For the most delicate musical moments, rest your wrist on the head of the tambourine while pecking the edge of the tambourine with the Pacman shape in your fingers. You will mute all excess head noise while creating a dry and focused jingle sound.

Sometimes I see students moving the tambourine to your hand and you get a double attack–you want to avoid that.

Holding the tambourine in place and striking the instrument with your hand will avoid any additional notes created by the movement of the tambourine jingles.

Tambourine Technique No. 2: Knock ✊

If you want a little more volume and a little more punch, go with the knocking technique. To achieve this technique, make a closed fist and use your knuckles to knock against the head of the tambourine. This tambourine technique will be best suited for the center of head and creates exclamatory punch to the sound. Excellently suited for ending punctuation of a phrase.

Tambourine Technique No. 3: Open Hand 🖐️

If you want a lot of impact in your tambourine sound, the 3rd and finally technique is the open hand. Striking an open hand directly into the tambourine will create a pronounced slap with the instrument for a dry and fortissimo note. This is also suited for dramatic endings to phrases and powerful musical climaxes.

Further Instruction on How To Play Tambourine

Check out Keith's book: Complementary Percussion

In "Complementary Percussion: A Workbook for Developing Tambourine, Triangle, Cymbals, and Bass Drum Performance," percussionists are provided with a comprehensive resource for honing their skills on often-overlooked instruments. The book addresses the tendency for concert percussionists to focus solely on snare drum, keyboard percussion, and timpani, neglecting the importance of tambourine, triangle, cymbals, and bass drum. By offering targeted exercises, etudes, and duets specifically tailored to these instruments, the workbook serves as a foundational tool for developing proficiency. The exercises lay the groundwork, akin to "stick control," while the varied etudes cater to different skill levels, providing a clear path to mastery. With "Complementary Percussion," percussionists can expand their repertoire and confidently tackle any part for tambourine, triangle, bass drum, and cymbals in concert settings.


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